In combat zones and other areas where traumatic injury can occur, getting the injured to a hospital as soon as possible is imperative. Unfortunately, access to medical care isn't always guaranteed, and the longer someone goes without, the greater the chance of complications.
Thanks to researchers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM), a field-worthy injection of sodium percarbonate (SPO) that slows muscle death and aids injured limbs by oxygenating tissue is on its way. And you’ll never guess where SPO is found: laundry detergent.
Billy Mays probably never saw that coming. Even the researchers were surprised.
“The potential for something so common to have a life-saving effect is really exciting,” says study author Benjamin Harrison, Ph.D., an associate professor of regenerative medicine at WFIRM.
In most cities, a hospital is just an ambulance ride away, but timing is everything. “When someone gets severely injured to the point that it prevents blood flow, the tissue that is no longer receiving blood begins to use up whatever resources it has available. Once those resources, such as oxygen and nutrients, are exhausted, tissue begins to die,” Harrison says.
An injection that oxygenates tissue for the couple of hours it takes to get a wounded soldier to a hospital could mean the difference between a full recovery and limb amputation.
“Developing something that was injectable made sense because we could put it anywhere we wanted,” Harrison says. An injectable material that is small enough to carry in a portable first aid kit could revolutionize fields where severe trauma is, unfortunately, part of the job.
In the United States, if we lose a tooth or finger in an accident (think contact sports and lawn mowers), chances are we’re close enough to be rushed to a hospital for emergency surgery. We’ll be told to put whatever’s been severed “on ice” to chill damaged tissue and decrease its demand for oxygen and nutrients.
However, “in hot, desert environments, ice may not be readily available, so we were trying to come up with an alternative that could survive in such a harsh environment,” Harrison says.
SPO is not a long-term fix—it’s simply a way to keep tissue alive until a patient can receive more extensive medical care. “The injected material provides some life-sustaining oxygen until other medical interventions could be used,” Harrison says.
Just Add Detergent?
The SPO injection researchers developed is a combination of sodium carbonate and hydrogen peroxide molecules, which in the presence of water decompose into oxygen and other salts, generating oxygen bubbles for up to three hours.
Researchers tested this injection on rats by disturbing the blood flow to one of their legs, observing the differences between those rats which received SPO and those that did not. The researchers discovered that oxygen-deprived muscles in the rats that were given the SPO maintained 30 percent of normal function, while the rats that did not receive the injection were almost completely unable to move.
At this point, researchers are narrowing down exactly how effective an SPO injection can be for a given amount of tissue, Harrison says. As with any product, they’re also figuring out which type of packaging will be easiest to use in the field.